Research highlights challenges of pumpkin and watermelon production in Uganda

A new study published in the journal CABI Agriculture and Bioscience highlights that pests, diseases and drought are the main challenges in the production of pumpkins and watermelons in Uganda.

A series of recommendations are presented to help the country’s pumpkin and watermelon growers increase yields to improve their livelihoods and food security.

The study assessed current production constraints for watermelons and pumpkins, management practices, production input sources to guide research and decision making in the production of these crops.

The research team, which included researchers from Makerere University College of Natural Sciences, Uganda, Muni University, Uganda, National Crops Resources Institute, Uganda, and University of KwaZulu- Natal in South Africa, surveyed 105 watermelon and pumpkin fields. in 28 districts in nine sub-regions of Uganda.

Among the findings, high transport and labor costs were also key factors affecting the productivity of pumpkin and watermelon – grown by 85.7% and 14.3% of farmers surveyed, respectively.

Scientists demonstrated that bacterial wilt (33.3%), downy mildew (20%), anthracnose (7.8%) and viral diseases (5.6%) were the most common pathological constraints and more important of the two fruits.

As regards pests, the whitefly (Bemisia tabaci, Gennadius) (29.5%), the order Hemiptera of the family Aleyrodidae, the aphids (Myzus Persicae, Sulzer) (20%), the order hemipterans of the family Aphidadae, the melon fly (Bactrocera cucurbitae, Coquillett) (16.2%), the order Diptera of the family Tephritidae and the cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon, Hufnagel) (9.5 %), the order Lepidoptera in the family Noctuidae, have been reported as the most limiting pests in watermelon and pumpkin production.

Watermelons and pumpkins (collectively called cucurbits) are grown in Uganda for their leaves, fruits and seeds, contributing to food, nutrition and income security.

In Uganda, pumpkins have been cultivated for centuries. However, watermelon farming is an activity that is less than three decades old and is becoming increasingly important due to its nutritional and economic value. Nevertheless, there is little research and information on the constraints affecting the production of watermelons and pumpkins.

Professor Arthur Tugume, one of the lead authors of the paper, said: “This study highlights the importance of watermelon and pumpkin as sources of food, income and nutritional security for communities. even when they are not priority agricultural products in Uganda.

“Pumpkin production was low, which may be partly due to poor quality farm-saved seed affecting profitability. Using a hand hoe to remove weeds was the main method of weed control with few farmers using herbicides while farmers mostly used ash as the main method of pest control.

“Watermelon farmers practiced the method of selling their produce on the farm, while pumpkins were sold at nearby markets and local traders.”

The researchers also point out that many farmers were unable to distinguish between diseases affecting watermelon, pumpkin and their associated symptoms. A startling finding was that farmers indiscriminately applied various types of agrochemicals – herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, acaricides, to control insect pests on these crops without any consideration of their intended use or impact on the environment.

Fred Masika, co-researcher on the paper from Makerere University and Muni University, said: “There is a need to train farmers in integrated pest and disease management, as well as proper methods of application of agrochemicals.

“Several interventions should be implemented to stimulate the production of these crops so that the values ​​of the crops are realized even more.

“For example, establishing storage centers for watermelon in newly established irrigation schemes (e.g. Ngenge, Tochi, Doho, Mubuku and Wadelai irrigation) and in central Uganda where high production is expected. “

Other measures suggested by scientists include establishing certified seed systems that provide disease-free planting material, addressing transportation issues, and adding value.

They also call for the identification of disease-causing pathogens so that management strategies can be developed. This may include, according to the researchers, the development and/or promotion of a more environmentally friendly breeding method for pest and disease resistance.

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